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Don’t Waste Your Money When Developing Training Videos


Wed Nov 11 2015

Don’t Waste Your Money When Developing Training Videos

Thousands of dollars are wasted every week on learning video that doesn’t lead to real learning. Video is not cheap to produce. In fact, video of midrange quality produced in-house by a learning professional costs about $165 for every minute of final video. When you add hidden costs like other people’s time—the folks in legal who check your script, other trainers who brainstorm ideas with you, subject matter experts who provide input—every minute of learning video turns into a significant investment. 

(If you’re wondering how I came to the cost of a minute of video being $165, I based my calculations on the average U.S. salary for an instructional designer, which is $63,000. Assuming this person takes four weeks for vacation and works 48 weeks a year, I divided $63,000 by 48 weeks to get a weekly pay of $1,312, which is $33 per hour. As a general rule, one minute of decent-quality video takes about four to five hours for a reasonably proficient person to produce. So the cost of five hours to produce this one minute of video is about $165. Of course, there are variables and assumptions that may make this cost higher or lower. For example, not everyone literally works 40 hours a week. Most people take breaks to grab a coffee, go to the restroom, or attend staff meetings. And some people with less-developed skills take longer because they have to correct dodgy shots or they struggle to remember certain features of the software. But as a ballpark figure, it helps us remember that video is not cheap to make and is a serious investment that needs to be made wisely.) 


But is that investment worth it? Learning organizations today are producing a lot of video, but is the video we produce helping people learn? 

Professionalizing Learning Video 

A lot of the video we use for learning is not that great. Poor camera work. Poor audio. Too long. Boring. Lots of talking head shots. 

It’s no longer good enough to just make video for learning. We have to make good video for learning. Video is the new flipchart, so it’s an increasingly important tool to master. 

So what constitutes good video? While there are many subjective elements, there are some tangible criteria we can learn from television professionals as well as studies on video consumption.  Here are three ways to make better video, which I’ll describe in more detail in subsequent posts:

  1. Keep it short.

  2. Don’t use talking heads (keep it visual).

  3. Aim for high technical standards. 

Keep It Short 

Studies show that people watch video on their desktop for an average of two minutes. Times are more varied on mobile devices—iPhone users watch for about two and a half minutes, Android users for three minutes, and tablet users for five minutes. It’s pretty clear that people have a relatively short attention span. Consequently, good learning video should be short. 


Is video longer than three minutes ineffective? Not necessarily, but it does face an even tougher battle to keep viewers engaged. So we need to employ video techniques to ensure that longer video is produced to an even higher editorial and production standard. 

Keep It Visual 

What draws learners into video content? Pictures. People watch video rather than listen to it. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen conducted a study in which he had people watch an online newscast. He found they spent as much time looking at other content on the page as they did watching the face of the talking head. They were distracted. 

The psychology department of the University of Hertfordshire studied talking head shots too. Led by professor Richard Wiseman, participants watched a one-minute talking head video followed by a second video with the same voice track. However, in the second video the talking head was replaced by an animation. The animation video resulted in a 15 percent increase in retention of information and a 33 percent increase in entertainment value. 

Television professionals will always tell you that to make engaging video you need pictures. In fact, this was one of the mantras of my former colleagues in the BBC training department. So talking heads and content that is not visually appealing may just be a waste of money. Think about the 10-minute talking head shot. That’s a $1,650 investment. 

Aim for High Technical Standards 

Around 10 years ago there was a lot of talk about whether video needed to look like it was produced by amateurs or by professionals. The argument went that slick production looked too corporate and lacked authenticity. 


I’m not a fan of gratuitous spinning logos and special effects, but I wonder if this argument is simply a cop-out for lazy production value. Arguing whether it’s slick or grungy is irrelevant—what’s important is whether the content is quick and easy to understand and thus easy to remember and apply. 

One of the biggest distractions in video is poor production technique, which also increases cognitive load. These include: 

  • shots that are out of focus, or changing focus midshot

  • shots that are either too dark or too bright

  • shaky camerawork because the video camera was not on a tripod or solid surface

  • audio, such as dialogue and voice-overs, that is hard to hear, including too much background noise and a “hum” or “buzz” in the recording

  • poor transitions between shots, such as jump cuts.

Add these challenges to a video that is already too long or features a single talking head and few visuals and it can make you question whether that $165-per-minute investment in video was a waste. 

In future posts, we’ll take a look at how you can overcome these challenges to create truly good video that people find engaging. 

To learn more, join Jonathan Halls for two upcoming courses by ATD on video production for learning. The workshop, Rapid Video Development for Learning****, is based on his popular book, Rapid Video Development for Trainers****.

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